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Cervical Cancer Vaccine Shows Promise

Vaccine's Maker Plans to File for FDA Review by Year's End

Experts React

"It seems like a very important advancement to me, from what I've seen. There's limited information at this point. [But] it looks very promising," says Hildesheim.

"I think it has a good potential," says Lisa Flowers, MD, assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Emory University's medical school.

"This is another exciting study which points to the likely availability of a vaccine for HPV, but it is critical [that] the data be peer-reviewed and published," states Debbie Saslow, PhD, in a statement emailed to WebMD.

Saslow is the director of breast and gynecological cancers for the American Cancer Society (ACS).

Next Steps

"If and when the FDA approves the vaccine, federal advisory groups will decide whether to recommend the vaccine and if so under what conditions (e.g.: at what age, etc.)," states Saslow.

The Gardasil phase III study participants were more than 12,000 women aged 16-26 years in 13 countries, states Merck's news release.

"In the U.S., most women will have been exposed (through sexual activity) to HPV by age 23 and many by age 16," states Saslow. "It is likely that the vaccine will be more effective if given to younger girls, before the onset of sexual activity, but we have very little data from this age group."

"While we have high rates of vaccination for infants and young children, it is more difficult to achieve wide participation in vaccination of older children and adolescents. This will be further complicated by the need for three doses," says Saslow.

"Other questions being discussed relate to whether boys should be vaccinated, and whether young women who have been exposed to HPV, and women in their 20s and 30s who also have likely been exposed, can get any benefit from vaccination," she continues.

Obviously, males don't get cervical cancer, since the cervix is part of the female reproductive system. But men can spread the HPV virus to women through sex.

"Most important will be to ensure that women who are most at risk for cervical cancer (women who do not get routine screening) receive any vaccine that is approved and recommended," Saslow continues.

Pap Test Here to Stay

Flowers lists these steps women can take right now:

  • Get Pap tests on a regular basis (every year).
  • If the Pap test has abnormal results, follow up and get treatment, if needed.
  • Use condoms and limit sexual partners, which may help. But only abstinence is 100% effective against sexually transmitted disease.
  • Don't smoke.

Women should "continue on with screening until it's felt by their physician that screening is no longer necessary, based on their profile," says Flowers.

A lot of women don't do that.

"In the U.S., at least 80% of adult women get Pap tests; this is a very effective way to prevent cervical cancer and deaths from cervical cancer," states Saslow.

"We also know that most women in the U.S. who do get cervical cancer have either never had a Pap test, or have not had one in five years or more. Most but not all cervical cancer can be prevented or detected early enough to prevent lives lost," Saslow continues.

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